Commentary  Comment: One year too late

Tales from a Montrealer’s isolating rez-less experience

The first class I attended at McGill was in a Stuart Bio auditorium. The professor divided the class’s 200 students into small groups to discuss what we thought International Development was. In my group of five, two girls were from Ontario, one from a small town outside of Philadelphia, and one from Victoria. I was the first person they’d met on campus from Montreal.

The American girl was nervous. She looked a little shell-shocked, maybe a tinch homesick, and I started to wonder if there was anything I could do to make Montreal less scary to her. I had just come back from a summer in Europe where a compassionate Londoner had put me up on his couch for three weeks and a French girl in San Sebastian shared her apartment when there wasn’t a free hotel or hostel bed in the city. My hosts showed me where to eat and party, and I felt more safe and oriented in those two cities than any others I visited.

I wanted to give back, befriend this freshman so I could take her to the oratory and Old Montreal, to tour little known neighbourhoods, and to sample Tibetan dumplings or Mauritian noodles.

I waited until the next week to offer myself up as Montreal-guide-extraordinaire. This time, she walked into class giggling with two other girls and she sat with them on the other side of the auditorium.

It took me almost six months at McGill before someone explained to me what residence was. Then I finally understood that the American girl had no doubt bonded with the giggle girls on her floor, making my services completely unnecessary.

The few acquaintances I made at McGill would always run into people en route from McLennan to Leacock, and explain to me that they met in rez. It seemed what residence you spent your first year in was almost as paramount to the McGill experience as what major you studied. Soon, I understood that residence was a friendship goldmine, and that because I went to CEGEP and was a Quebecker, I had completely missed out.

See, Montrealers face a cruel and unforgiving dilemma. It’s laughably cheap to come to McGill and relatively easy to get in. One of the best schools in Canada is right at our doorstep, and we can even keep living with our parents! How can we refuse? And trust me, we don’t. With Concordia and Université de Montreal in the mix, I can count on one hand the number of people from my high school graduating class who went away for university.

But it’s undeniable that by missing that real first year of school, Quebec students miss out on a fundamental part of the university experience. My closest friends went to McGill, but every one of them was from Montreal. And no matter how close I became with an out-of-town student, I could never penetrate her rez clique.

No matter how willing I was to drop cash on cabs back from the St. Laurent strips or savvy on the metro, the fact I lived at home and out of the Ghetto always seemed to matter in my friendships with non-Quebec students.

Shannon Kiely is The Daily’s coordinating news editor. You can cheat on your Anglo cliques at